by Carmie O. Carpio/Asianjournal.com
CLARK, PAMPANGA — All eyes were up on Pampanga’s sunny skies when the 12th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (PIHABF) showcased a “weekend of everything that flies” on Feb. 7-10 in Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga — formerly the largest American airbase outside the United States.
Giant hot air balloons, RC demonstrations, ultra-light aircraft formations, aerobatic display, helicopter exhibition, skydivers, paragliders and a hang glider filled the atmosphere daily. The visitors also had a chance to participate by flying kites of various shapes and colors.
The country’s biggest aviation sports event still drew in thousands of eager spectators of mixed race and color despite the recent downgrade by the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the Philippines’ rating in terms of compliance with the safety oversight standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The event attracted 22 foreign balloonists from Sweden, United States, Hungary, Thailand, Malaysia, Germany, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan, Switzerland, England, and South Korea apart from local balloonists.
Hot air balloons were set to fly twice daily, first from 5:30 am to 7 am and then from 5:30 pm to 6 pm. Hans Funk, a pilot from Switzerland and a first-time participant, showed some of the crowd how a hot air balloon is set and started.
On Saturday, however, strong winds nixed the morning balloon flights, causing disappointment from pilots and willing riders.
“Well, I like it,” he said of his first time in such event. “I don’t like the wind because we want to fly the balloon. But we had three flights already yesterday,” he added.
Asked if he will come back next year, he said, “Oh yes, definitely.”
The organizers also confirmed the participation of four paragliders, three from Malaysia and one from France, who flew for the whole duration of the events.
Other highlights included ultra-light bomb dropping exercises with audience participation, radio control aircraft flying, rocketry demonstration, search and rescue flying exhibition, light airplane balloon bursting competition, Army jeep club demonstration, missionary heliostat aircraft demo, ultralight fly by and choreographed kite flying exhibition.
Visitors also enjoyed mini-trade fairs, food plazas, souvenir shops, game booths and rides around Clark’s vicinity.
The event site was tightly secured with approximately 200 uniformed personnel from the Philippine National Police, Philippine Air Force, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) and Clark Police. No accidents had been reported according to Reniel Tiqui, a local policeman.
Over the years, the PIHABF has been held to promote the Philippines as a sport aviation destination in Asia and to increase public awareness of hot air balloons as an aviation sport. Hot air balloon and airplane pilots from all over the world fly into the Philippines to join their local counterparts in this breathtaking event. Local and foreign pilots offer fun flights to the public at reasonably discounted prices.
The PIHABF was patterned after similar events held in countries like Japan, United States and Europe. It kicked off in the Philippines in 1994 when then Tourism Secretary Mina Gabor commissioned Korean businessman and hot air balloon pilot Mr. Sung Kee Paik, and British Airways General Manager Mr. John Emery, to consider the staging of a balloon fiesta in the country.